Millennials are special. Whether we consider "special" a good or a bad thing, the reality is that as business owners looking to hire, millennials make up the majority of people from whom we have to choose these days. After months of having ads up that I thought would bring in good salespeople--with offers of base salary and commission, generous benefits, and the opportunity to be in charge and blaze a trail--I had received very few interested candidates, and those I received were not people I wanted to hire. Frustrated, I tried to re-frame the offer by turning everything I thought about what young talent would want on end. The results were both surprising and easier to manage.

Do away with variable compensation. Millennials have been provided for by their parents in ways in which prior generations never have, and when they enter the workplace this translates to wanting a guaranteed salary more than the possibility of earning as much as they can. With this in mind, I changed the ad I was running from base plus commission to a good but flat salary. To calculate this figure, I took the end total compensation that a commissioned salesperson would have made in her first year and worked backwards to get an hourly rate that is higher than what the market pays--$20. While it will cost me a bit more in the early months, when I ordinarily would have been paying less as reps were getting trained, it will even out later when they do begin to earn commissions and exceed the threshold upon which their compensation was calculated.

Make the position approachable. Despite all the talk of the entitlement millennials display, they are, in actuality, far less confident in their real abilities to deliver than it seems at first glance. My prior job posts were for an account executive--which I always thought attracted people because it sounded higher than entry level, and implied responsibilities like decision-making, creativity, and management. Instead, I posted a position for a sales assistant. The responsibilities would be the same, but if a potential recruit felt more confident about her abilities under the protection of a lesser title, it made no difference to me at the end of the day.

Remove barriers. Millennials may have been brought up to believe they can do anything, but they have also been told that their prospects are slim. Most think they will have a hard time finding employment, will have to accept something they might not want, and will be passed over for those with more experience because of the tight market. So rather than listing all that I expected from the candidate in the ad, I chose to say that experience, degrees, and pedigree don't interest me, but that a desire to help others, to answer questions, and to offer advice do. This meant anyone of any kind, color, or creed could find her path to success with us.

I got 487 applicants, in comparison to the 32 I received for essentially the same job just a month before. Of the 487, I did phone screeners with 51, and asked 12 in for face-to-face interviews. Among those, five were hirable, and from them, I chose 2--one with no degree at all, but enough heart and common sense to make her good at selling, and the other with a masters degree and more importantly, compassion and curiosity, the fundamental ingredients needed to succeed in sales.

There is no reason that either candidate could not have applied to and been considered for the job post seeking an account executive, and yet neither did. In fact, not a single candidate who applied for the assistant position also applied for the account executive position, which I kept running simultaneously.

My takeaway was powerful. Millennials privilege monetary safety over betting on their own capabilities. They prefer to know that they can deliver what they are tasked with, rather than stretching themselves. And when given the chance, they opt for the path of least resistance, rather than the one that requires them to push, even if the rewards might be bigger on the rocky road. If you erect a cocoon of security, they are perfectly capable of delivering what you need.

Published on: Jul 29, 2017
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of